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NATO Extends IFOR Mission
Extending a Month or More to Guarantee Safety

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Thousands of U.S. and other peacekeeping troops will remain in Bosnia for up to a month or more beyond the promised Dec. 20 withdrawal deadline, the Defense Department said Thursday. Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said NATO commanders wanted a "significant number" of the 60,000 NATO-led peacekeepers in Bosnia, including 18,000 Americans, to remain right up until the deadline, "so that means that it will take a month, maybe longer, to get all the troops out after Dec. 20."

The Clinton administration said when U.S. troops were sent to Bosnia as part of a NATO-led force after a peace agreement signed last December that U.S. troops would leave the country by the end of this year. But Bacon told reporters in response to questions at a briefing that U.S. Army Gen. George Joulwan, commander of NATO forces in Europe, as well as leaders of the Bosnia peace implementation force (IFOR), had decided that virtually all of the force needed to remain in Bosnia until at least late September after Bosnian elections. That will push the final withdrawal into January or perhaps later, the Pentagon spokesman said.

U.S. troops were supposed to begin a slow but steady withdrawal from Bosnia in late summer so the withdrawal could be accomplished by the December deadline. But Joulwan and IFOR commanders have openly worried that if a small force remained in the final days of the operation in December, it could be vulnerable to attack.

Pentagon officials, who asked not to be identified, stressed that the IFOR mission was not being expanded but that caution was being used to guarantee safety. A significant portion of the 60,000 troops will remain until Dec. 20, Bacon said. He predicted that the pullout could probably be achieved faster than the more than two months that it took to get peacekeepers into Bosnia.

"We won't have to build bridges, we won't have to put navigation aids into the Tuzla airport... a number of roads will have been improved," he said when pressed for a new schedule. "So I would suspect that we will be able to get out more quickly."

Additional resources
Apr 23 · IFOR Strength to Stay Unchanged for Now
Apr 22 · NATO's Solana Leaves Door Open for IFOR Extension
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
IFOR Latest News

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